Working for yourself may sound like a dream. No boss telling you what to do and no time clock to punch. But this doesn’t mean you can throw time management out the window and fly by the seat of your pants. As an independent contractor, you are the only one keeping yourself employed.
Here are some tips for how to get organized:
Set A Schedule
One of the perks of being self-employed is the ability to make your own schedule. But, as an independent contractor, you still have to make a schedule. Block out time on your calendar to work, just as you would for a meeting with a prospective client or manager. It’s easy to think you’ll fit it in when you can, but work will start to pile up if you don’t steadily commit time to it.
Stick To The Scope
Be sure to discuss and document the full scope of the project with the client prior to starting work. Scope creep is more than annoying and is highly prevalent in today’s business landscape. In fact, in a 2017 survey conducted by the Project Management Institue, nearly 50% of respondents reported that they experienced scope creep or uncontrolled changes to a project’s scope in the last 12 months. Even if the client offers to pay you more as the tasks grow, it will get in the way of completing tasks within the planned timeline. Know if you can take on additional work. And, if you can, extend the deadline as needed.
Some clients will have set deadlines for which they need projects complete, but others will ask you to quote them. Don’t overpromise yourself; it’s what gets you in trouble in the first place. Know what else you have on your plate and how much time you’ll have to work on everyone’s priority items. If anything, build in a little extra time for any unforeseen circumstances.
Find A Spot
It’s nice to not be tied to an office, but if you don’t have a dedicated workspace, it might be hard to get into the groove. A home office might do the job or perhaps a quiet corner in the neighborhood coffee shop. Whatever it is, know where you’re going to work and be sure it’s free from distractions.
Consider The Time
If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule your block of work time for 8 a.m. The idea of being an independent contractor is to have the flexibility to work how you want to. As long as you give yourself enough time to complete the tasks and you’re focused on getting them done, it doesn’t matter when you’re working on them. You may have started your journey as an independent contractor to have more time with your family, for example; remember why you did it and work when it’s best for you.
It’s OK to take breaks as you see fit as long as you’re making progress. In fact, they’re encouraged. There’s the Pomodoro Technique that consists of 25-minute work blocks, followed by 5-minute breaks. Then, after four sessions, a longer break of 30 minutes. Or, if you need a more focused block of time, consider 90-minute work blocks with a 20-minute break. Researchers have dubbed this the ultradian rhythm.
Make Do-Not-Disturb Time
There will likely be interruptions, like an email or call you need to answer, so make sure you’ve taken this into consideration when scheduling your work blocks. However, if you can set aside time that you know is for focusing on core tasks, you’ll be surprised at how productive you are. Turn off your phone, the TV, computer alerts and close the door so nothing gets in the way. No multitasking allowed! (Anyway, studies have shown that multitasking plummets productivity and even drops your IQ. Yikes!)
How To Prioritize
It should be fairly easy to prioritize as you should know about how long tasks take you to complete and when each is due. (If you are new to the gig and not sure how long tasks are taking you to complete, consider keeping a log of your work progress so you know for future projects.) To make sure you’re working the ones that are most urgent, prioritize continuously. Revisit your lists every day to decide how to prioritize and shift tasks as needed.
Know What You Need (Mentally)
Sometimes you need to see your to-do list dwindle, and that might mean quickly checking off the easy tasks that you can finish up. Other times, it means building yourself up to tackle the more challenging projects. Don’t force yourself into brainstorming for an upcoming project if you’re in cleanup mode and vice versa.
If worse comes to worst and you’re cutting it close to a deadline, reach out to your client to inform them as soon as possible. Don’t let them come looking for you; proactively give them a new timeline for when you know you’ll be able to complete the assignment.